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Rashmi Bansal

A couple of days ago I caught a show on Zee Studio called '15 Hottest Hollywood Moms'.

The list includes the likes of Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna. All of these women earn between $10 and $20 million a year and manage their mommy lives with a retinue of nannies, cooks, drivers and maids - the best money can buy.

But equally interesting is how they earned their money. By acting in just one or two major films, and commiting to a couple of big brand endorsements. The really smart ones continue to earn royalties for work done years ago (like Julia - for Pretty Woman). Or they produce films which earn them a share in the profits.

The common thread running through their lives is this: control over what they do, and when they do it. Their schedule works for them, not against them.

If an actress with young children has to shoot for a film, she takes her kids and nanny along. It's perfectly acceptable; it's the way the industry works. And nobody bats an eyelid.

Let's, for a moment imagine the same scenario in another industry. You can't, can you? Two reasons.

A woman in her 20s or early 30s, with young children, cannot afford the same kind of support staff as a movie star. (Although in the Indian context, that's not strictly true). The second and more important reason, however, is this: "It's just not done".

A star can have it her way, because she is a star. Whereas a junior or mid level executive is... just an employee. Important, but not irreplacable. The system will not bend to her needs, she must bend to the System.

When she bends upto breaking point, the employee makes the only choice she can: which is to drop out of the System.

These thoughts come to mind as I read that IIM Kozhikode has achieved a new record by taking in 30% female candidates into its flagship PGP program. That's all very good but ten years from now, when these women are facing the questions of job vs motherhood, career vs family, will the answers be any different?

I really don't think so.

The class of 1993 at IIM Ahmedabad had a record 30 girls (in a batch of 180). Double the number of girls from the year before. At the time, we graduated with stars in our eyes and the conviction that we could conquer the world. But, most of us were conquered by the challenges of motherhood.

A good number of us are working, but few, if any, upto full potential. Or with complete focus. We follow our husbands when they are transferred. Look for part-time jobs even after the baby starts school. Say no to jobs which require too much travel.

Because. It keeps life more simple and manageable.

Oh, so you women have no ambition? Well, it's not quite like that. Women do have ambition, they dream of a life where they can have it all.

A stimulating job, which makes the best use of their education and talents.

A wonderful home and a warm, loving family.

Time for exercise, reading, friends and foot massages.

However, Murphy's laws for Mothers decrees that a woman can have any two of the above. At best. So, make a choice - and hurry it up! There's a kid with homework waiting....

If you're a young woman in her 20s or early 30s reading this, I bet you are depressed by now. Well, don't be. My objective is not to just state the obvious, to lament the status quo. There are solutions.

The first thing to accept, very early, is that you will not have the same career path as a man, the linear A to B, B to C, management trainee to CEO.

Let's say you start working at 24, and plan to have your first child by age 32. That gives you 8 years in which to build your *star* value. To become more than just another employee to your company or organisation.

Enter baby.

Now, if you have successfully built up your brand value, one of two things can happen:

* You and your boss sit down together and create an arrangement that works for both of you.

It's possible, though rare, so you need a Plan B to fall back upon. Which is...

* You take your knowledge, expertise and network and use it to become self employed.

Meaning, from an employee you become an independent consultant. Or a 'freelancer'. Or 'a service provider'. Which is as difficult as it sounds. What you're selling is your skill, and that does not require investment.

All you need is *one* person who believes in you. For whom you do the job so well, that they recommend you to another person. And thus the cycle continues.

As you get better - and better known - for the work you do, you will be able to charge more for it. Earn as much or more than in a regular job. And, do it all, on your terms.

If it means taking along your children and their nanny - while you speak at a conference - so be it. That's what Julia Roberts would do, without any hesitation.

Be the star of your own life. Bask in the glow of the spotlight instead of lurking in the shadows of narrowly defined success.

Because you're worth it, and that's not just an advertising slogan.

You truly deserve to have it *all* and the sooner you get on the zig-zag path, the faster you'll get there!

P.S. If you're a woman, at any stage in her career, and would care to tell me your story, please drop me a line at rashmi_b at yahoo.com. The more we share, the farther we can go together, and grow together. Knowing that you are not alone!